The Empress Teimei (貞明皇后)

Empress Teimei (June, 25, 1884 - May 17, 1951) belonged to the Imperial Family of Japan. Empress Teimei was the Empress of Emperor Taisho. Empress Teimei's maiden (family) name was Sadako KUJO. The Oshirushi (a signature mark used by members of the Imperial family to mark their belongings) of Empress Teimei was Fuji (Wisteria floribunda).

Girlhood (childhood)
The Empress Teimei was the fourth daughter born into the family of Prince Michitaka KUJO, a former Sekke (line of regents and advisers), on June 25, 1884. Her mother is Ikuko NOMA.

The Empress Teimei was placed into the care of a farm family, located in the suburbs surrounding the Koen-ji Temple, and she had spent her childhood there up until school age. She grew to be very brawny and so the people around the princess nick-named her black princess of the Kujo family. As the administrators of the Imperial Household Ministry (currently, Imperial Household Agency) were nominating potential princesses for the sickly Imperial Prince Yoshihito (Later, the Emperor Taisho), the healthy appearance of the Empress Teimei became the most distinctly important advantage for choosing her.

The period of her reign as crown princess
On February 11, 1900, when the Empress Teimei was fifteen years old, she became engaged to the Imperial Prince Yoshihito, who was five years her senior. On May 10, 1900, the Imperial Prince Yoshihito and the Empress Teimei were married in a Shinto wedding ceremony at the Kashikodokoro, one of the three palace sanctuaries, shrine of the imperial ancestors and temple located inside the Japanese imperial palace] in kyuchu (the Imperial Court). A traditional new house in celebration of the marriage, Akasaka Palace (currently, The State Guest House) was constructed.

At the begging of her marriage life, the Empress Teimei was taught civilities and rules of etiquette in the Imperial Court in a stern manner by Yukiko MADENOKOJI, a senior court lady and the educator,; this put the Empress Teimei in a difficult position. However later, the Empress Teimei demonstrated deep respect in thanking Yukiko MADENOKOJI, for providing her with a great amount of the fundamental concepts necessary for her maturity and education which would be required of her in the role of Empress.

The Emperor Taisho and the Empress Teimei lived happily together as husband and wife, and the Empress Teimei seemed to break with Imperial court custom, as she took if upon herself to look after her husband's needs. Additionally, it was very rare, in that the Empress Teimei gave birth to four Imperial princes, so this fact helped to establish the concept of monogamy in Japan. Besides, because the Empress Teimei bore four princes, she acquired great position inside the Imperial court, with remarkably influential power.

The period of her Empress days
The demise of the Meiji Emperor was July 30, 1912. She was appointed to Empress when Imperial Prince Yoshihito ascended to the throne. Three years later, on November 10, 1915, the Sokui no rei (The enthronement of the Emperor) ceremony was held at the Kyoto Imperial Palace; but the Empress Teimei did not attend this ceremony due to her pregnancy with the forth child (later became Mikasanomiya).

As successor to the Empress Dowager Shoken, the Empress Teimei promoted silk yarn threads and the silk industry; she herself, engaged in the production of sericulture (Kogo's Goshinsan [Empress's sericulture]). Furthermore, it is also known that the Empress Teimei rendered her service to the Kyurai (Helping care for the lepers [the patients with Hansen's disease]) project and supported lighthouse keepers. Although the Empress Teimei had great respect for the conventions and traditions of the Imperial household and Shinto religion, she still invited scholars such as Yuka NOGUCHI and Kikuno GOKAN of The Modern Women Education discipline to the Imperial court as her advisors.

Additionally, after the Emperor Taisho was confined due to his illness, the Empress Teimei took care of the imperial household business on behalf of the Emperor Taisho and aggressively engaged with the Genro (elder statesmen) and the Jushin (chief vassals).

Although the Empress Teimei carefully nursed the Emperor Taisho, the Emperor Taisho met his demise during the course of care while under medical treatment. At the same time a regent, Imperial Prince Hirohito, who was the Crown Prince, ascended to the throne of Emperor, the Empress Teimei ascended as the Empress Dowager.

The period of her days as the Empress Dowager
It is said that after the Emperor's death, like her daily task, the Empress Teimei spent her time inside the room where the portrait of the deceased Emperor Taisho was enshrined, for almost all hours of the morning.
Close attendants and acquaintances of the Empress Teimei, in describing her behavior toward the portrait in the room, said of her, 'she acted as if she were serving a live person.'
In addition, the Empress Teimei dearly loved her great-grand children of the Imperial princess Mikasanomiya, who was a daughter of the Emperor Showa.

In 1931, the Japanese government established a 'Leprosy Prevention Association' by using imperial donation from the Empress Teimei. Then, the 'Leprosy Prevention Days' were established, coming before and after the birthday of the Empress Teimei.
Currently the 'Leprosy Prevention Day' has been renamed as the 'Awareness and deep understanding of Hansen's disease week.'
While the financial help from the Empress Teimei saved the lives of some patients, it is undeniable that the placement of patients into quarantine was justified by using the phrase, 'prevention.'
Furthermore, without consideration of the Empress Teimei intentions, the Japanese government justified these types of activities (putting patients in quarantine) and continued to politically utilize her name as the 'Kouon (Emperor's kindness)'and 'Jinji (Emperor's benevolence).'

On May 17, 1951, the Empress Teimei met her demise from angina pectoris. The Empress Teimei's age at the time of death was sixty-six. Except for typhoid fever, from which the Empress Teimei had suffered during her crown princess days, she never contracted any serious illnesses and was genuinely healthy. Even through her last day, the Empress Teimei planned to engage in the established practice of the eshaku (salutation, greeting) ritual to labor service groups, but had an attack of angina pectoris while she was preparing for the practice, and then suddenly passed away. Additionally, the Emperor Showa was receiving a Shinko (giving a lecture in the Emperor's presence) lecture when he heard the news of the Empress Teimei's (his mother) demise. After the news, Emperor Showa got lost for words for a while.

On June 8, 1951, the Empress Teimei received the posthumous title, Empress Teimei.
The posthumous title, 'Teimei (貞明),' was taken from one sentence of the source text, "Ekikyo (I Ching [Yi Jing] or The Book of Changes).": 'The path ways of the sun and the moon (or times of days and months) are firm adherence to one's principles (Tei, [貞]) and clear (mei, [明]).'

The Misasagi (Imperial mausoleum) for the Empress Teimei was Tama no Higashi no Misasagi (Musashi Imperial mausoleum). As an Empress, the Empress Teimei was the first Empress among successive Empresses who had an Imperial mausoleum built in the Kanto area. Additionally, the Empress Teimei was the first of the Imperial family to be interred by the Imperial House Act of the Constitution of Japan.

Family lineage
The Empress Dowager Eisho, a nyogo (a consort) of Emperor Komei, was an aunt of the Empress Teimei. Therefore, the Emperor Meiji was a cousin of the Empress Teimei through marriage. An elder sister of the Empress Teimei, Kikumaro ouhi Noriko, was the princess of Prince Yamashinanomiya Kikumaro. An elder maternal half-sister of the Empress Teimei, Kazuko, was a wife of Kozui OTANI, the chief priest of Nishi Hongan-ji Temple. Yoshimune KUJO was a younger paternal brother of the Empress Teimei, and his wife was a famous kajin (Waka poet), Takeko KUJO.

Princes of the Empress Teimei
With the Emperor Taisho, the Empress Teimei bore four princes.

The Emperor Showa (Michinomiya Hirohito : 1901 - 1989)
- The 124th Emperor, the Emperor Showa
Chichibunomiya Imperial Prince Yasuhito (Atsunomiya Yasuhito : 1902 - 1953)
- Chichibu no Miya
Tkamatsunomiya Imperial Prince Nobuhito (Terunomiya Nobuhito : 1905 - 1987)
- Takamatsu no Miya
Mikasanomiya Imperial Prince Mikasa Takahito (Suminomiya Takahito : 1915 -)
- Mikasa no Miya

Anecdotes of the Empress Teimei

The Empress Teimei created large numbers of waka (a traditional Japanese poem of thirty-one syllables) poems through life. On the other hand, she also engaged in making of Chinese poems, and it seemed that her husband, the Emperor Taisho, might have influenced her.

Please refer to a book by Yasuhiko NISHIKAWA, "The Empress Teimei: the world of her waka (Japanese poetry) and poems; Collections of poetry by the Empress Teimei", published from Kinseisha in 2007.

The Empress Teimei's relationships with her princes and their princesses (wives)
As a mother-in-law, the Empress Teimei seemed to take a stern approach with Empress Kojun for all things. Since the Empress Kojun was a legitimate princess by birth (Her official court title was Princess) in the Kuninomiya family, the close associates who surrounded the Empress Teimei thought that her stern treatment toward the Empress Kojun was caused by her jealousy over the family lineage of the Empress Kojun (Although the Empress Teimei came from the Kujo family which was descended from the Gosekke [five top Fujiwara families whose members were eligible for the positions of Sessho and Kanpaku], she was not a legitimate princess by birth, but an illegitimate child.).

However, the Empress Kojun had an extremely unpretentious character, and on the other hand, the Empress Teimei had grown up in a brawny manner until her school age, because she was placed into nursery care with a farmer's family who lived near Koen-ji Temple in the suburbs of Tokyo: therefore, the two of them were fundamentally different in values. The family home of the Empress Kojun, the Kuninomiya family, was a maternal relative of the Imperial family, so the Empress Kojun took advantage of her position to behave selfishly on many occasions. These selfish behaviors of the Empress Kojun seemed to be the one of the prime factors of displeasure to the Empress Teimei. The Empress Teimei gave her advice to the Empress Kojun through her chief court lady. However, Tsuneko TAKEYA, a chief lady of the court for the Empress Dowager who had served the Empress Teimei, and Sigeko TAKEYA, a chief lady of the court who had served for the Empress Kojun were sisters. So, they recalled that it was hard to communicate with each other.

Chief court ladies and court ladies, who served for the Empress Teimei and the Empress Kojun, actually witnessed the conflict between two Empresses when the Crown Prince (later, the Emperor Showa) and his princess wife (later, the Empress Kojun) visited the Emperor Taisho in his place of medical treatment at the Hayama goyotei (Imperial property) a few months before the death of Emperor Taisho. The Empress Kojun was too nervous in front of the mother-in-law, the Empress Teimei, so the Empress Kojun squeezed the hand towel, which was used for cooling down the heat of the Emperor Taisho, by hand while still wearing her gloves, instead of using her bare hands (Now and before, female Imperial families always wore gloves when they were going out.), wetting her gloves. The Empress Teimei said to the Empress Kojun, '(Whenever I ask you to do something) you are always disgraceful,' and then the Empress Kojun could not say any words to her remaining silent. The Empress Teimei was bright, intelligent and courageous, but she never scolded her subordinates directly. Therefore, those court ladies who witnessed this incident understood they had never got along well as a wife and her mother-in-law.

On the other hand, the Empress Teimei loved the princesses (wives) of the younger brothers of the Emperor Showa, Chichibu no Miya, Takamatsu no Miya, and Mikasa no Miya enough to invite them very frequently for dinners and tea parties at the Imperial palace. Especially, the Empress Teimei seemed to favor the Imperial Princess Chichibu Setsuko, who was the wife of her second son, Chichibu no Miya, and had an intimate relationship with her. On the Peach Festival (also known as the Girls' Festival) celebrated every year on March 3, Setsuko displayed the hina dolls (dolls displayed at the Girls' Festival), which she brought with her from her family home when she married into the Imperial family, in the Imperial Palace. It was an annual event that Setsuko showed the display to the Empress Teimei.
In her published book, "The Silver Bonbonniere (French word: A small, ornate box or dish for candy)," Setsuko wrote on this Peach Festival event, 'The Empress Teimei had four children who are all Imperial princes (boys), so she seems to look forward to the Peach Festival with pleasure.'

The Empress Teimei rebelled against her oldest son, the Emperor Showa, since he progressed the reform of the Imperial Court, such as the abolishment of the court lady system. Thus, in reaction, the Empress Teimei kept the traditional and outdated Imperial Court system within her own Omiya Gosho (the Omiya Imperial Palace). Nevertheless, the Empress Teimei and the Emperor Showa had a decent relationship. There was a heartwarming episode of their (mother and son) argument over the name of a bird they had seen at the Imperial Place, as if they were children. Additionally, during the World War II, the Emperor Showa worried about his mother (the Empress Teimei) who refused to evacuate from the Tokyo area when the war condition worsened. So, this concern for his mother was considered to be the one of factors for the Emperor Showa to remain in, and never leaving Tokyo.

However, the people who surrounded the Empress Teimei expressed the belief that the Empress Teimei tended to love her second son, 'Chichibu no Miya.'
Because the Empress Teimei and Chichibu no Miya share the same birthday, the Empress Teimei seemed to strongly sense a shared fate with him. Regarding the marriage of Chichibu no Miya mentioned above, it is said that the Empress Teimei strongly recommended Setsuko as his princess; she was a grand daughter of the Emperor's enemy, Katamori MATSUDAIRA, and also a Heimin (commoner). It is said that the Empress Teimei contributed greatly toward the successful marriage of Setsuko and Chichibu no Miya (Toshiaki KAWAHARA).

[Original Japanese]